The concept of women’s friendships from girlhood through the golden years has long been a mesmerizing theme in literature.
From the March sisters in “Little Women,” to the “bosom friends” Diana and Anne of “Anne of Green Gables,” to the nonagenarian Bellamy sisters in “Having Our Say,” the writings of women about women have been popular, striking a familiar chord of intimacy and belonging.
To this body of work we can now add “The Kinship of Women: A Celebration of Enduring Friendship,” by Pat Ross. The author of more than 30 books for children and adults, Ross is best known as the author of “Remembering Main Street.”
For the nostalgic at heart, “Kinship” evokes the same warmth of “Main Street,” summoning recollections of the women who make us feel most safe and special, just as “Main Street” recalls the places that will always be home, no matter where we go.
Kinship is a delightful blending of girlfriend photos, from the turn of the century to modern times, with brief accompanying texts from the pens of great women writers, scholars and leaders - and also from undiscovered women simply talking about their friends.
The book’s concept can be traced to two things: Ross’s collection of old photos and her enthrallment with the women’s movement of the ‘60s, a time, she says, of great personal awakening.
Of the pictures, she says, “I started with studio portraits. I collected them because I liked their faces; some of them reminded me of people I knew. Then I moved into group portraits and snapshots. I have some wonderful snaps. I go to a lot of the photo-and-ephemera shows. You can spend hours looking at photo postcards.”
For the book, she culled favorite items from her personal collection of historic photos and then borrowed from the archive of her all-girls school, St. Margaret’s, as well as the family albums of friends.
“Then I had to have my own family stuff,” she says. “My family has always kept everything.”
What you get in “Kinship” are such delights as a picture of little girls whispering on a bench and a text: “Girls especially are fond of exchanging confidences with those who they think they can trust; it is one of the most charming traits of a simple, earnest-hearted girlhood, and they are the happiest women who never lose it entirely.” (Lucy Larcom, 1889.)
Then there is the portrait of teenagers in the fashions of the ‘20s, embracing, and the accompanying thought, “My heart has just been called back to the time when we used to sit with our arms around each other at the sunset hour & talk of our friends & our homes & of ten thousand subjects of mutual interest until both our hearts felt warmer & lighter for the pure communion of spirit.” (Antoinette Brown to Lucy Stone.)
There are pictures of tea parties and bobby-soxers, telephone operators and rodeo girls. There are the thoughts of Mary Shelly, Jamaica Kincaid, Christina Rossetti, Lillian Hellman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
“Of all the books I’ve done, including ‘Main Street,’ ” says Ross, “this was the most enjoyable because it was personal. When I sent it off to the publisher, I thought: What do I do now?”
Her feelings are understandable. The book is a treasure, nourishment for the soul on days that are gray and bleak.
“The needs that women meet for each other don’t have to be large,” says Ross. “Little gifts at Christmas, small things. Women understand the meaning of token gestures and the right gift. I have a small group of women friends; we take turns cooking dinner. No agenda, just dinner. We have to tear ourselves apart at 11.”
Why is it, she ponders, that women who haven’t seen each other since high school can meet after 30 years and remember events as though they’d happened yesterday?
I have a theory. I think it is because there are special friends we have at different times in our lives who, no matter where they are, remain in our hearts: the best pal from first grade who helped get us through the tragedy of eyeglasses; the college roommate who was there to share career dreams; the buddy from the cancer support group who never failed to make everyone laugh.
We pick up “Kinship” and smile at the pictures, feel moved by the words, and suddenly it seems that our best friends are beside us once again.
Staff illustration by Molly Quinn